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Strategic Broadband Infrastructure Investment
With a population of over 170,000 residents spread along the Georgia border, Chattanooga is Tennessee’s fourth-largest city. As the seat of Hamilton County and the center of the Southeast Tennessee region, Chattanooga lies at the convergence of the Cumberland Plateau and the Appalachian mountain range, which together create the dynamic and scenic natural landscapes that have made the city famous. In the last few decades, Chattanooga has also made a name for itself through its economic development initiatives: by combining smart incentives, collaborative leadership, and the enhancement and marketing of its famous quality-of-life. The greater Chattanooga region has attracted over $4 billion in investments from major companies like Volkswagen Group of America, Amazon.com, Alstom, Wacker Polysilicon USA, and IVS. These companies have located large manufacturing and distribution facilities in the region, bringing thousands of jobs to Southeast Tennessee and cementing Chattanooga’s role as a major economic player in the New South.
However, Chattanooga’s history was not always so bright. In 1969, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report called it the “dirtiest city in America” thanks to air and water pollution from its burgeoning industrial sector. In the following years, changing markets and overseas competition caused many of those industries to vacate the city, undermining its economy and employment base. Only in the past four decades, thanks to far-sighted regional leadership and major investments in infrastructure and business development, has Chattanooga begun to re-establish itself as a leading Southern economic region.
In the early 2000s, public and private sector leaders set their sights on a new infrastructure element of Chattanooga’s development as a modern business hub: a complete redesign of the city’s power grid and Internet services that would position it as a national leader in connectivity and green technology. Combining a $100 million investment from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act with a $200 million local bond issue, the city set its municipal Electric Power Board to work implementing cutting-edge live fiber connection technology across its entire grid. Dubbed “Gig City”–the initiative was one of the state’s largest and most ambitious infrastructure overhaul projects to date.
Thanks to the contributions of countless local and regional partners, the full Gig City grid went live in 2010. Today, Chattanooga boasts the fastest municipal Internet grid in the entire Western hemisphere, offering up to 1 gigabit (1,000 megabits) per second data speeds—200 times faster than the national average of 5.3 megabit per second. Those blazing fast speeds place Chattanooga among the best connected cities in the world, a major attractor for growing businesses, large corporations, and Internet entrepreneurs alike. The city’s investment in broadband infrastructure has positioned Chattanooga as an emerging technology hub and helped create hundreds of new jobs. The city’s rapidly growing entrepreneurial scene now includes dozens of local start-ups along with many new arrivals and entrepreneurs, including a former NASA scientist who invented the NODE, a palm-sized sensor array that reads out to a smart phone, which has garnered national attention.
Since the Gig City project’s implementation, Chattanooga and its partners throughout the region have been busy building on its successes. The business accelerator project Gigtank is the only one of its kind plugged into a living fiber network, which the project claims “enables next generation businesses to go to market today.” Gigtank participants are granted access to a toolkit of integrated technologies that can be combined, enhanced, and commercialized to support business ideas and initiatives. A complementary program, Geekmove, provides incentives, assistance, and resources to computer developers and entrepreneurs interested in relocating to Chattanooga.
In addition to the city’s major strides in Internet connectivity, the Gig City project outfitted Chattanooga’s entire power grid with top-of-the-line Smart Grid meter connections. A major innovation in green infrastructure technology, the Smart Grid system allows the Electric Power Board to dynamically assess the power needs of the city down to the block and house scale, reducing wasted energy and helping to match production levels to peak usage. Smart metering has also proved invaluable in crisis management. For example, in July 2012, when a storm knocked out power to 80,000 homes, more than half had their energy restored within three seconds via digitally rerouted connections—compared with seventeen hours on a standard system.
Chattanooga’s fiber optic network also serves as the backbone for a superfast wireless infrastructure system, which city officials are using to link and manage traffic signals, water quality monitors, and much more. The system also gives police officers and firefighters high-speed Internet access while in route. The system has inspired a local company called Global Green Lighting to develop radio-controlled outdoor lighting that delivers tremendous cost savings while giving public officials the ability to adjust the light in real-time. At the same time, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s SimCenter Enterprises is developing a system to detect disaster events, project their likely impact, and coordinate public safety deployments and citizen notification in real time.
“The Gig City project has been a major engine driving economic, educational, and sustainable development within Chattanooga,” said Beth Jones, Executive Director of the Southeast Tennessee Development District. The unprecedented Internet speeds now available to homes and businesses alike have raised the city’s profile on the world scale, and have drawn coverage from CBS, CNN, The New York Times, and several international outlets. By transitioning its economy into the 20th century while preserving and enhancing the natural beauty and quality-of-life that made it famous, Chattanooga and the Southeast Tennessee Region have set an outstanding example for all cities and regions poised to invest in similar communications infrastructure.
Athens, TN enhances quality of life and the environment with sustainable projects
Nestled in the Appalachian Ridge-and-Valley Province about an hour north of Chattanooga and an hour south of Knoxville, Athens is the county seat of McMinn County. In 2008, the City of Athens held a series of Growth Readiness Workshops to seek public input about the state of the city and the way in which the city should approach growth. The responses will sound familiar to any planner, elected official or Public Works Director. More sidewalks, better parks, less flooding, more places (Placemaking); in other words, more public space and quality infrastructure. With this in mind the city adopted these three principles to guide the revitalization of the public realm with regard to water quality and flooding.
- Put on the Brake- Putting on the Brakes means you detain water which will decrease erosion and flood waters. This is done through detention ponds, vegetation and other energy dissipating projects.
- Soak like Sponge- Clean water and reduce flooding by retention techniques like rain gardens and wetlands.
- Make like a Sieve-Use pervious materials and products to reduce runoff and flooding.
Oostanaula Creek is located in the downtown area of Athens and is listed on the state’s impaired list due to siltation and bacteria. The Oostanaula also has a tendency, from time to time, to cause significant flooding in the downtown area. The city decided to approach the issue with the three guiding principles in mind. Small neighborhood projects have been implemented during the following years to improve the water quality and create places. Placemaking, the creation of places, is a strategy that creates a unique destination where residents and visitors alike will visit, develop a sense of civic pride and began to understand the value of a place.
In 2008, the City of Athens partnered with TVA, TDEC and the local YMCA to develop a parking lot implementing these principles. A municipal parking lot adjacent to city hall and the YMCA was reconstructed to allow for the retention of rainwater and to reduce impervious cover. The old asphalt parking surface was removed. A plan was adopted to install pervious concrete parking stalls with Geo-Block drive lanes. The typical island found in most parking lots was replaced with a rain garden and kiosk. The kiosk has a living roof and educational materials to explain the benefits of each complement of the project.
In 2009, the city received a 319 grant from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation for the purpose of restoring the creek. The E.G. Fisher Public Library agreed to partner with the city to construct a wetland on library property to detain stormwater preventing it from entering the Oostanaula Creek. This six-acre site includes an amphitheater, limestone glade, walking trails and educational kiosks for library’s summer reading program. Native trees, shrubs, grasses and wildflowers were planted by volunteers to complete the project.
The city recently began an aggressive campaign to construct 250 rain gardens in the city. To encourage property owners to participate in the program, the city Public Works Department agreed to provide technical assistance and labor. A property owner will contact the department and request assistance. City staff will visit with the homeowner and determine if a rain garden is appropriate for the property. Once a temporary construction easement has been signed, city crews come out excavate the garden approximately 1-2 feet. The garden is then filled with a blend of composted wood, sand and leaf mulch after which the top soil is replaced. The property owner then plants the garden with flowers and an appropriate ground cover.
In addition to these projects, the city has completed the Matlock Sink Hole Buffer and Retention Enhancement. The amphitheater and roof downspouts at the McMinn Living Heritage Museum where retrofitted to intercept stormwater by installing a pervious patio and connecting the downspouts into a rain garden.
Downtown Revitalization Project: Pikeville, Tennessee
Approximately seven years ago a new bypass was constructed around the City of Pikeville essentially cutting off the Central Business District (CBD) and destroying the tourism based economy that had developed due to the city’s proximity to Fall Creek Falls State Park. This asphalt ring allowed motorists to speed through the area with no incentive to stop and visit this historic town. Businesses began to close, leaving many vacant buildings, and revenue began to dwindle.
Phase I: Downtown Streetscape and Accessibility Improvements
In an effort to revitalize the downtown, city leaders began an aggressive project to re-shape the central business district. A streetscape design was created and with financial assistance from the Appalachian Regional Commission of $99,550 and a $50,000 grant from the USDA Rural Development, it is now becoming a reality. Improvements include 48 ornamental streetlights installed along Main Street from Methodist Street to Gill Street. Textured brick crosswalks direct tourists into the heart of the central business district. Pedestrian and bicycle access has been restored by this project, providing pedestrian access that will promote shopping and encourage businesses to locate in town.
Phase II: Spring Street Pedestrian Enhancement Project
After successful completion of the initial revitalization project, the City of Pikeville was awarded $596,008 in Transportation Enhancement funds for a phase II pedestrian enhancement project on Spring Street between Grove Street and Wheeler Avenue. The purpose of the project is to provide pedestrians a safe, adequate passage between the historic Main Street Commercial district and the businesses on Spring Street and East Railroad Avenue near the U.S. Hwy 127 bypass. In addition, in accordance with the City of Pikeville’s Downtown Redevelopment Plan, Spring Street will serve as the city’s primary corridor from the bypass to Main Street. The Spring Street Pedestrian Enhancement Project will greatly improve the visual appeal and quality of life in Pikeville. Further, it will complement the Main Street pedestrian enhancement project that was funded with the use of USDA Rural Development funds.
The City plans to construct approximately 1600 linear feet of sidewalk between Grove Street and Wheeler Avenue for phase II and approximately 2100 linear feet of sidewalk between Wheeler Avenue and East Railroad Avenue for phase III pedestrian enhancement projects on Spring Street. 2007 TDOT Enhancement award funds, originally to be used for the Bledsoe County visitors’ center and parking lot, will be used for the phase I project on Spring Street between Main Street and Grove Street (project maps attached). Additional pedestrian enhancement project amenities include street lighting with underground electrical wiring, stamped brick crosswalks, and landscaping (trees, shrubs, flowers). All intersections will include curbing and several areas will require storm water runoff alterations.
The project facilitates traffic flow and creates a pedestrian link between the central business district on Main Street and west business district on East Railroad Avenue. In addition, it will stimulate business, visitation, and the local economy; offer a safe pedestrian passage for residents and visitors; and enhance the aesthetic value of Pikeville.
The City of Cleveland Multi-Function Landscaped Median Project
In collaboration with the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) and Cleveland Utilities (CU), the City of Cleveland is beautifying a major community entrance, reducing flooding, decreasing public safety risks and improving the water quality of the Hiwassee River Watershed all with a multi-functional landscaped median project along a busy highway. State Route 60 (25th Street) is a typical four-lane divided highway with grass ditches serving as medians. These ditches have an average width of twenty feet and a depth of three feet, plus several areas as narrow as ten feet and five feet in depth. The medians were unattractive, dangerous and required many hours to maintain. Moderate to heavy rainfall would cause the medians to reach capacity quickly due to runoff from the roadway and impervious surfaces quickly flooding the highway and adjacent businesses along the corridor. In addition, runoff and flood waters drained into South Mouse Creek, an EPA designated 303 (d) stream due to runoff from a MS4 area.
In 2006, the City of Cleveland received a TDOT Roadscapes grant to landscape the median. To achieve the end results of an aesthetically pleasing entry corridor that captures and filters rainwater as well as provides a potential escape route for traffic, the City of Cleveland implemented a unique, multifunctional landscaped median project. The City received permission from the TDOT to use city forces to design and construct the medians therefore increasing the length and scope of the project. City staff used TDOT design regulations to conform to safety requirements.
To achieve the intended results, the existing soil and plant material had to be excavated and an eighteen (18”) drainage pipe install between two catch basins. The catch basins were necessary to prevent the roadway from flooding due to excess runoff. The pipe was covered with rock and a silt fabric to allow the movement of water. Washed sand was then used to fill the ditch to within one foot of the surface and topsoil was included to finish the growing medium. To encourage the infiltration of rainwater, the median was designed to be eight inches lower in the center. This allows the water to percolate through the sand so impurities are filtered out and the amount of runoff entering the watershed is reduced.
The city planted small ornamental trees, shrubs and perennials to beautify the median and help remove water through evapo-transpiration. Plants used in the design include Double Red Knockout Roses, Indian Hawthorne, David Viburnum, Daylilies and purple flowering Crape Myrtle. After planting, drip irrigation was installed and the median was covered with ¾’’-1 ½ ’’ river rock as mulch. The medians will be maintained by the Landscape Maintenance Division of the City of Cleveland.
The median has already tested the project’s ability to capture and retain stormwater and prevent the flooding of 25th Street. The test came with a 2 ½ inches of rain in less than two hours one afternoon. City staff inspected the median during the event and found the median was successful in capturing the runoff while no flooding of the roadway occurred.